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On Stage: Kate Hepburn, Richard Rauh and old Nixon

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

By Christopher Rawson, Post-Gazette Drama Critic

The death last week of American original Katharine Hepburn -- wonderful actress and no-BS personality -- revived memories for Richard Rauh about the film series he ran for the Pittsburgh Playhouse. (Showing a different film every night, it played a big role in many lives. I never understood why Point Park canceled it, though I suppose video has made such a series impossible today.)

During the series' glory days, Richard would sometimes use both the Hamlet Street and (now) Rockwell theaters, scheduling a special series in one. For September 1984, he arranged a festival of 25 Hepburn films, from "Morning Glory" (1933) to "On Golden Pond" (1981). He wrote her about it and was rewarded with an appreciative letter, dated (characteristically) "VI -- 28 -- 1984," to which she added tartly, "I hope people will show up." She also said:

"My beautiful Grandmother -- Caroline Garlinghouse -- came from Pittsburgh -- my mother's mother. I never met her but I have followed many of her ideas -- through my mother -- And it has given me a warm spot in my heart for your city."

Richard did some research and learned that there was a Frank Garlinghouse, an engineer, living in Glenshaw in 1899. He wrote Hepburn to tell her, including the festival flier. She wrote back:

"That KH has certainly done a lot of pictures. I'm fascinated! And you're a fellow for taking a chance.

"My grandmother's brother, Fred Garlinghouse, lived in Pittsburgh, was an engineer and apparently worked for Jones & Laughlin. This was in 1907. ...

"I have one of the wicker chairs which was in one of the boxes at the old Nixon before you tore it down. Actually, I gave one to Sally Lapiduss who was thrilled. She is now in California seeking her fortune."

Sally had become Hepburn's assistant because she happened to work at the Pittsburgh Public Theater when Hepburn visited to see her niece, Katharine Houghton (Hepburn's own middle name) in "The Seagull" (1979). And Sally has indeed found her fortune in TV.

Hepburn's reference to the "old Nixon," the Broadway-sized theater we've never replaced (not the old Nixon William Safire tracked down in Purgatory in a recent column), has a history. Richard has a copy of a telegram Hepburn sent Bob Brannigan at the Nixon on April 29, 1950, in which she said, "How I hate to think of the Nixon not being there. I would still love to have two or three of the brackets from the marble columns. Would send for them." Then in a May 10 letter addressed to "Dear Johnny," she followed up:

"How very, very kind of you to remember to get those hooks for me. ... It must be a terrible wrench for you to see your old home being torn down. Such a stupid thing to do, but thank heaven that at least there will be another theatre."

She probably meant the so-called "new Nixon," an inferior replacement that is now gone, too. Of course we do have other theaters, admirable in their (mainly larger) way. But as for Hepburn, there'll never be another like her.

Singin' in the rain

At the Pirates' very satisfying 3-2 victory over the Astros on July 4th, I especially enjoyed the theatrical 66-minute rain delay. PNC is a great place to watch not only a ballgame but the city skyline, including the weather systems that sweep by. This one was a dramatic doozy.

To further entertain us while we waited, the Pirates played a movie clip of native son Gene Kelly singing in the rain. It was a good clear clip -- better than the one the CLO shows at the Kelly Awards; probably the one Patricia Kelly helped get for last year's SkyBlast. I wasn't the only one who sang along. But I had to explain to the man behind me whom we were watching. In the future, the Pirates should include an announcement and scoreboard ID -- born 1912 in East Liberty, Peabody '29, Pitt '33. You can never assume people know, for example, that Kelly always said his dream as a kid was to play shortstop for the Pirates. On the 4th of July, he played for us all at PNC.

Bottom Line

Paid admissions at city's pro theaters for week ending July 6:

  • Annie/CLO (86%) . . . . . . . . . . .12,193
  • Dirty Blonde/Public (74%) . . . . . 3,054

Contact Chris Rawson at 412-263-1666 orcrawson@post-gazette.com .

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